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Issues Facing Golf

Jun. 29, 2007     By     Comments (13)

The game of golf is stronger now than it's ever been. Here are some of the biggest issues in the game today.

Trap Five LogoThe state of the game is good. 2007 has been an enjoyable year already. Zach Johnson's Masters victory was a feel-good story for most folks, even if the tournament itself was brutal to watch. Angel Cabrera joined Johnson as players who survived the final day of a major with Tiger on the prowl.

Despite relative health, there are some big issues in golf this year. Some are reoccurring, others are recent developments, but all may have an impact on the game in coming years. I've distilled the biggest issues to five. See what you think…

Number Five: FedExCup
FedExCup LogoLike little chipmunks storing nuts for the long winter, PGA Tour players have been busily collecting FedExCup points. The Golf Channel has faithfully reported to us how the whole things is progressing and, to our utter surprise, most people don't care. Didn't we predict this?

Tour players have toed the party line by flashing their pearly whites every time someone utters the word "FedExCup," but you kind of get the impression all they care about are winning majors and keeping their card.

The average golf fan doesn't understand the FedExCup points system and wonders, "Why are they resetting the points prior to the playoffs?" My primary gripe is that if it's a playoff, then why are there going to be 144 players in the field? Last time I checked, playoffs had less players than the beginning of the season. But maybe that's just me.

When the FedEx Cup points system was announced there was a substantial buzz and conversation. But now, not so much. What I'm trying to say is that the jury's still out on how well the FedExCup will do this fall. We'll have to see if a $10 million prize, beautiful (to some) trophy, and a five-year exemption will make the kind of waves Finchem and his cronies are hoping for. So far one of the biggest stories of the year is eliciting a collective yawn.

Number Four: Distance Regulation
FT-i and FT-5 hero shotsDistance is a subject that has occupied our attention for a long time. We've done our best to give all the factors a fair hearing. In other words, we believe that the ball has something to do with distance but not all that some would have you believe.

Here are some of the factors: proper fitting, fitness, and baked-out fairways all have contributed to increased distance. It's not a one dimensional issue.

I'm not convinced distance is a big problem. The U.S. Open, er, Masters (which finished at +1) treated us to the joys of a lengthened Augusta. It appears that the authorities read a little too much into Tiger's nine-shot win in 1997. There was no move to protect Augusta when Ben Hogan won at 14-under in 1953, Jack Nicklaus won at 17-under in 1965, or Raymond Floyd won at 17-under in 1976. I guess 18-under was the magic number to prompt massive course lengthening.

Balls, clubhead size, and grooves have evolved alongside fairway speed, green speed, fitness, fitting, and ball technology. Whatever one might say about how long modern players hit the ball, the fact remains that the best players win the most. Good equipment benefits us all, especially the amateurs.

Number Three: TGC's New Role
The Golf Channel LogoWhen the PGA Tour announced that The Golf Channel had a 15-year contract I figured it was a boneheaded move. TGC isn't ESPN, right? Well, it wasn't ESPN to begin with.

My tune has since changed. TGC took seriously their involvement with all aspects of golf and has ramped up the quality of their coverage. What's nice about TGC coverage is that you actually get to watch a lot of golf. Exclusive rights means exclusive coverage (of the events that they cover), and they've done well.

A friend made the comment that it's a natural progression of a healthy sport. Committed golf fans immediately made sure that they had TGC as part of their cable package (when possible) and nothing changed substantially when TGC took over some of the coverage.

I believe the future is bright for the golf media. Committed fans are spoiled to have their very own channel. My initial concerns of long-term health have become non-issues.

Number Two: Tiger Woods
Tiger with the Claret JugLike him or not, Tiger Woods has brought the PGA Tour to a new level. Golf in general has benefitted greatly from his charisma and skill. Tiger has remained a singular mover in golf and that is not going to change.

The great thing about watching Tiger for the next couple of decades is that we'll likely see him beat Jack's major's record. He could easily win more total PGA Tour events than Snead. Even when Tiger is older and not contending as much, he'll still draw the biggest crowds.

Tiger's game is strong. He won seven in a row to end the 2006 season, has won three in 2007, and has nearly won every major this year. The real question is can anyone make a run at this guy? Prior to Mickelson's wrist injury there were some who thought he was the man to knock Tiger from his throne. I'm not sure he can do it. I said as much already.

I think the biggest story surrounding Tiger right now is how others have seemed to hang around when he's in the hunt. Zach Johnson won the Masters with Tiger breathing down his neck and Angel Cabrera edged him out at the U.S. Open. The Tour will get stronger as players learn to hang with Tiger. But they can forget it when he's playing with the proverbial "A" game.

It's no surprise that Tiger Woods is leading the inaugeral FedExCup points standings by nearly 4,000 points. And he's played fewer events than anyone else. Gasp! Still no one cares.

Number One: Slow Play
Ben CraneWe inaugurated a campaign to end slow play at The Sand Trap because slow play is clearly a problem. There are many contributing factors which boil down to too much fiddle-farting around. And there are things that we can do to end slow play.

Awareness is the first step. One of the most important things is meaningful enforcement at the local level. Kicking the ignorant in the rear is a good start. We're going to have a tough time gaining and retaining players if they have to give up more family time than is reasonable. Four hours is enough time to play 18 holes.

Slow play is an issue that both amateurs and professionals should keep center stage. The pros could do a much better job of being an example to the rest of us. We know that a lot of money rides on every shot at the professional level but there has to be a way to get these pros (that is professional golfer) to play a little faster. It is an important part of the game.

That about rounds out the biggest issues in golf today. Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Photo Credits: © Getty Images, Photo Credits: © AP.

Discussion

  1. Michael says:

    This is probably just a typo, but it sdaid under tiger that he has won nearly every major this year. Last time I checked he hasn't won any this year.

  2. Jack Waddell says:

    Wow. Jeff, you really nailed a lot of issues. Great piece. But I'll take issue with Number Two: Tiger Woods. Tiger at this moment in time reminds me a lot of Muhammad Ali. He has brought a lot of attention to himself and his sport with his dominant skill and celebrity.

    In their time, they were and are among the most recognized athletes in the world, deservedly.

    But individual celebrity, acclaim, and even worthiness don't equate to advancing the sport in which they've achieved their fame and fortune. Perhaps it is because, as personalities, they are bigger than their sport.

    For a moment consider what Ali meant to boxing. Did he elevate the sport to what we now consider a mainstream spectator or television attraction? Has Tiger in his decade long career made any impact on growing the game or even advancing such activities as First Tee? And, of course, I'm not even talking about any growth in achieving more minority participation.

    The answer is no. And that's tragic Particularly when it comes to golf. I won't speak for the worthiness of boxing as a mainstream sport. But the analogy I'm drawing is that in growing larger in celebrity in relation to their sport, Ali and Tiger both diminished their sport in the eyes of the global population.

    Tiger is unquestionably the best player ever in his sport. As was Ali. To watch either at their best is to understand the ultimate capabilities of a human being in either endeavor.

    Hogan was, as it turn out, a nasty, selfish, self-centered human being. But his legacy in golf is thousands upon thousands of players who worship the game in his honor, me included. That won't be Tiger's legacy. Nor is it Ali's.

    It's quite possible I'm too old and too wrong. But from what I see so far, Tiger is a higher paid Michael Jordan. It's all about him and very little about the game.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would be happier were we more interested in Tiger's amazing skill, than in discussing the name of his daughter.

    Given the state of golf right now, and based on Tiger's decade-long impact, I think we need Byron and Ben, more than we need blogged pictures of Sam.

  3. Jeff Smith says:

    This is probably just a typo, but it sdaid under tiger that he has won nearly every major this year. Last time I checked he hasn't won any this year.

    Tiger came in second twice. I stated that in a round about and yet slightly overblown way so I could make a point. "Nearly won," in this context, means he's come in second in every major this year.

    Jack: You've added a lot to the discussiont. When I think of Tiger, I think of his skill. I think of those freak shots that he seems to be able to pull off at the craziest times.

    But yes, he has transcended his skill. His abilities have made way for Tiger the commodity. When you're as good as he is (far better than the next competitor) you tend to become an icon, a representation of yourself.

    Nicklaus, Hogan, Arnie, Jones, etc. all have that to a greater or lesser extent. Arnie's army was full of guys who appreciated Palmer for more than his skill. He was, and is in many minds, an icon too. Tiger is just more of an icon than anyone else.

    Good stuff Jack.

  4. Dave says:

    As far as Tiger goes, he is probably firmly ensconced in the pantheon of great golfers.

    What we often forget, though, is that the media today is far more pervasive than it was 20 or 40 or 60 years ago. 24 hour news and sports channels need material. For a public to which golf is a somewhat "fringe" mainstream sport, they don't have the time or interest level to put forth more than a few golfers. Tiger is a given. He's the best player in the world, and overall it isn't really even close.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's not Tiger's fault he's Tiger, and he's living in today's society. He doesn't heap the media attention on himself. Nike does it. Buick does it. American Express does it. Every major media outlet does it. Tiger doesn't. He's not Dennis Rodman.

    Golf (usually) isn't a team sport. It's an individual sport. If Tiger isn't a "team player" so what? Can't he just be the best golfer in the world? Is there some sort of contract he signed that forces him to be more than that? Tiger being as good as he is, and as dominant as he is puts golf in the mainstream. Just look at the ratings for events in which he is in contention vs. those where he is not. How many people look at the leaderboard for no other reason than just to see where he is?

  5. Jack Waddell says:

    This is perhaps off topic, but it was interesting to me today when CBS ran a Nantz interview with Jack and Arnie prior to the last round of the Buick. Managing to stave off vomiting over Nantz' obsequiousness, I was barely able to hang in long enough to hear Palmer say that what differentiated Jack from him was that Jack was able to separate himself from the field, where as he could not.

    That is what we're seeing with Tiger. He's separate from the field he's competing against. And, to my earlier point, he's somewhat separate from the game. That's going to happen, I guess, every few generations when through genetic chance we are treated to a new master of the game.

    But the other interesting thing, to me, was that Jack said that Arnie taught him that there was a responsibility that came with being a champion. Be it acknowledging the gallery, signing autographs, or on a higher level, contributing to the game. From what I've seen over the last decade, we are not getting that from Tiger. No post poor round interviews. Interviews with many words but no truth or substance. Limited media access on the threat of no media access.

    I'm not saying it's easy to be Tiger Woods. I'm not saying I would behave differently. No... yes I would. I would not pout on the course or curse in camera range. I would face the press after every round. I would expend as much money and energy on programs to grow the game as I did on my own personal tax write off foundation. In the end, I would try to give back to the game what it has given me.

    I'm kinda still waiting to see if Tiger ever does that.

  6. Nick says:

    Jack, I think that you speak a lot of truth in your above comments. If I were to proffer an explanation to why Tiger acts the way he does, it rests solely at the feet of his corporate sponsors and his willingness to acquiesce to their desires. The difference between the last three truly transcendent athletes, Ali, Jordan, and Tiger, is that Ali wasn't beholden to endorsements, and as a result, was actually able to demonstrate a personality in public. Tiger, like Jordan, is micromanaged to the point of being a cyborg. The investment that the companies put in Tiger and Jordan prevent them from raising issues that will ultimately lead to the betterment of anything from society to the games that they play, or offering anything that could be construed as an opinion.

    After the GQ interview, it has been pretty obvious that no one will ever get a true window into Tiger Woods the person, only Tiger Woods the public figure--it's too risky financially for the companies that manage him to risk him saying something off color or provactive--hence no post 75 interviews or questions that pertain to anything other than golf.

  7. From what I've seen over the last decade, we are not getting that from Tiger. No post poor round interviews.

    Gotta call a friendly "BS" on this one. He gave interviews after both runner-up finishes in the majors this year and gives perhaps more interviews than anyone alive. You're thinking of one or two specific instances (Bay Hill), not in general. He's blown the press off a few times after bad rounds, but it's the exception, not the rule (and I'm willing to grant you that it's also the exception that he has a poor round).

    And from what I can tell, the Learning Center Tiger's built is quite impressive and is doing rather well. He's planning to build one on the east coast as well. He may not be giving back to "golf" per se, but he's giving back to the world, and I think that's a fair trade. You can crack wise about it all you want, but that doesn't change the reality.

    I consider his skill the thing most worth watching, and I feel if Tiger needs to behave the way he does to compete the way he does, I'm content with the tradeoff. If Tiger were to "give back" more in the ways you've outlined (while ignoring other ways), he may be a lesser golfer than he is, has been, and will be. Nicklaus wasn't exactly a kind soul in his competitive years, either, and Arnie won all of his majors in a very short time span. Tiger's only 31. He has plenty of time to "give back" - right now, as a fan of amazing golf, I'd prefer if he'd do what he feels is necessary to play great golf now.

    I'm not saying it's easy to be Tiger Woods. I'm not saying I would behave differently. No... yes I would. I would not pout on the course or curse in camera range. I would face the press after every round.

    It's easy for you to say, and to judge. Truth is, neither of us have any idea what it takes to be Tiger. No idea. I simply avoid judging by not caring - positively or negatively - about anything Tiger does except play golf well. I'll let you have your gilded past, Jack, but time sure has given it a nice, sweet, sugar coating.

    As for the other, non-TW issues, dead on, Jeff. I can't think of anything else that would bump one of these five (or four) items from their perch. The next 10 years will be interesting (or the next 15 on TGC!).

  8. JP Bouffard says:

    Tiger Woods is the most powerful man in golf, and I don't think he's really beholden to sponsors. I think, if anything, it's the other way around.

    I think Tiger does plenty for "the game;" he does more with his ability and stardom to promote golf than he could ever do with his mouth, I think. Maybe that's overstating it a little, but I've never believed you had to be a "spokesman" for anything.

    I, too, don't like his on-course demeanor sometimes, and I think some previous generations of champions seemed to have better peer relationships than I see Tiger having. Tiger has lots of "friends," but the ones we know about--Chris Riley, John Cook, Mark O'Meara--are mostly fringe players or older guys who are no threat to him. His relationship with his principle competition seems icy to me, and I didn't think it was that way in the Nicklaus days.

    He guards his privacy, and that tends to spill over into interviews. He really has perfected the non-answer, but they say after you've been in sports a year or two you've heard basically every question possible and given every possible answer. I think he concentrates so hard and works so hard at the golf, he often doesn't have the energy to give the press too much.

    All in all, we could have a much worse superstar in golf, to be sure.

  9. Jeff Smith says:

    He guards his privacy, and that tends to spill over into interviews. He really has perfected the non-answer, but they say after you've been in sports a year or two you've heard basically every question possible and given every possible answer. I think he concentrates so hard and works so hard at the golf, he often doesn't have the energy to give the press too much.

    All in all, we could have a much worse superstar in golf, to be sure.

    I agree. I think Tiger does very well given the pressure that he faces everywhere he goes. It would be impossible for him to go shopping without getting mugged for autographs. He is unable to live anything like a normal life, even if he wanted to. Fame brings major limitations.

    I appreciate that he's gracious to his competitors unless it's Stephen Ames mouthing off. In light of what Ames said Tiger only responded with "9&8" when he had, in fact, handed him is ass on a plate.

    I think that the Tiger discussion indicates what I was trying to say to begin with: Tiger Woods is a major player in golf these days.

  10. Doug says:

    Has Tiger in his decade long career made any impact on growing the game or even advancing such activities as First Tee? And, of course, I'm not even talking about any growth in achieving more minority participation.

    The answer is no.

    Are you kidding me or am I confused?

    How can you in one instance accuse him of not growing the game and in the next breath say your not talking about growing the game in minority participation? I've seen first hand young inner city children showing up to practice at my local public course because they want to be "likeTiger". Kids who parent no nothing about the game and kids that otherwise could easily find the kind of trouble that kills way too many city youths every year.

    If you need Tiger to gloat about his work in charity I doubt he will. But I will for him:

    The Tiger Woods Foundation (TWF) was established in 1996 by Tiger Woods and his father Earl to empower young people to reach their highest potential by initiating and supporting community-based programs that promote the health, education and welfare of all of America's children. TWF started reaching out to young people primarily through junior golf clinics and a national grant program. From these efforts evolved fundraising events such as the Target World Challenge and Tiger Jam. Tiger and Earl started the Foundation based on the belief that we all have the responsibility to help young people achieve their dreams. With the help of many friends and supporters, the Foundation has reached out to millions of children across the country.

    JUNIOR GOLF

    Established in 1999 to create opportunities and enhance the growth of junior golfers through international competition, the Tiger Woods Foundation National Junior Golf Team competes annually in the Junior World Championships.

    Tiger Woods and Ernie Els partnered in 2006 to create the Friendship Cup, designed to bring the TWF National Junior Golf Team and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation Junior Team together to compete in a three-day, 54-hole match-play event. In addition to playing golf, this unique event strives to provide junior golfers with an opportunity to share their different backgrounds and cultures. The Friendship Cup takes place annually and will alternate between America and South Africa.

    And some info about the TWF finances.

    http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=8100

    I'm not sure why anyone would make such unfounded accusations.

    Try google next time.

  11. Rick Carpenter says:

    Re: Slow play

    My soon-to-be-21yrs-old son, who is a good golfer (70s), has had "slow play" experiences on our home course at Elkins Lake in Huntsville, TX. Last summer, he got a tee time for himself for 18. He played through the first nine fast, like he always does. On to the back nine. He's in the box, ball on the tee, club in hand, and along come 12 "regulars" who bust his chops for taking their tee time. Seems he finished the first nine faster than the pro shop thought he could. That's no big deal, but the regulars wouldn't let him play through, even though there was no one ahead of him/them. They called the pro out who told my son to give them their tee time. Forget it (or something like that), he goes home.

    He and a friend, another good golfer, have been hit up on often when they are waiting on the groups in front of them. Once, they were hit on so many times that they hit a ball back.

    So yeah, talk to me about slow play... but only after etiquette is addressed!

  12. David Hillman says:

    I can't believe that article claimed Woods has charisma! He has no charisma
    at all, because he behaves like a spoiled brat on course. No one actually _likes_
    Woods, they just root for him to minimize the possibility of being disappointed on Sunday
    afternoon. Similar to why people not-from-New-York root for the Yankees. No one
    actually likes Steinbrenner, but your odds of being happy in late October are much
    better if you wear pinstripes.

    Maybe there is something to him influencing younger golfers, though, because
    everytime I see a petulant whiny little jerk on course, they are usually under
    the age of 12... or Woods. No one likes to play with that kind of golfer.

  13. You bring up some good issues but my comment concerns certain opinions now that Tiger is the greatest player of all time. Jack Nicklaus still leads in total victories and 19 majors. I realize that Tiger will probably catch up if he stays healthy but to say he is the greatest NOW is a little premature.

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